Mississippi Turning


Things are bad when all I can think of is Lewis Grizzard. He had this bit about the South. He’d say if you don’t like it here, that’s fine. Delta’s ready when you are.


A few years ago I ran a clothing store. A woman from another of our stores had been in while I was on vacation and called later to tell me about how wonderful my staff was. This one young woman in particular. But she could not for the life of her remember the woman’s name. What did she look like seemed a good place to start. She was tall and thin. Well, that described both the women who worked for me. So I asked the next logical question: Was she black or white? Since, you know, one woman WAS black and one woman WAS white. Oh, the woman said, she didn’t notice such things. Obviously at that point I assumed I’d had a stroke that affected nothing but language processing. I’m sorry, I said, did you just say that you didn’t notice if the woman was white or black? Sometimes trying to be inclusive just makes you dumb.

A poll was just conducted in Mississippi by Public Policy Polling. PPP surveyed 400 Mississippians who were Republican primary voters. The questions were generally about potential Republican presidential candidates and potential Mississippi gubernatorial candidates. There were some assorted questions about basic stuff: Job performance of the Mississippi delegation, some basic demographics, and how the respondent feels about interracial marriage.

Wait. What?

Question 12: Do you think Roger Wicker (junior senator from Mississippi) is too liberal, too conservative, or about right?

Question 13: If the Republican primary for Senate next year was between Roger Wicker and a more conservative challenger, who would you vote for?

Question 14: Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?

Question 15: Would you describe yourself as very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative?

But let me jump away from that for a second. Did you know I’m from Mississippi? I am. I’m a born and bred Mississippian currently living in Memphis, Tennessee. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? I’m from Mississippi and here I am, typing on this fancy internet machine, talking to my straight/gay/bi/white/black/Hispanic/Scandinavian friends. Giving a little of my butter and egg money to Planned Parenthood so common sluts can have abortions. Listening to NPR. Writing a letter to my white girlfriend who is married to a black man.  I’m even wearing shoes whilst wondering is there enough arugula in the fridge to feed four of us tonight?

You thought that sort of thing only happened in Vermont, didn’t you?

Let me start in the obvious place: It is frightening that anyone thinks interracial marriage should be illegal. It is beyond the pale that this is still an issue. That we still find it necessary to ask that question IS A PROBLEM. Me? I thought it would be a moot point by now. I also thought we’d have jetpacks, so what do I know? But, come on, folks. Is there really a danger—and I mean REALLY—that Mississippi, or any other state is going to ban interracial marriage? Oh, hell no. And I’ll tell you why: The Gays. Keep your head in the game, people! It’s The Gays wanting all sorts of equal rights and shit who are going to continue to make this a non-issue. We’ve got to deal with the Godless Sodomites wanting RIDICULOUS rights like, like, being able to visit each other in the hospital!

But because, like Bible verses, statistics can be used to prove any point, I want to look at this a little closer.  Of the 400 respondents, 76% fell in the range of “somewhat conservative” to “very conservative”. Not a big deal since we’re talking Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were from 46 years old or older. (The breakdown is 36% 46-65 and 32% older than 65.) Am I surprised that in Mississippi, 68% of the 400 Republicans polled think interracial marriage is illegal? Nope. I also don’t really care.

I don’t want to sound crass, but those people aren’t the future of the state of Mississippi. Now, yes, attitudes are contagious and we have to assume that a large percentage of these people have spawned at some point. But you know what? That some 75 year-old dude in Eastabuchie, Mississippi who refers to the checkout clerk at Walmart as “that little colored girl” thinks there’s still such thing as a pure race and that we should defend it by locking up our wimmins to protect them from the Big Scary Black Man is not going to keep me awake at night. I’m concerned about MY kids. My elementary school-aged nephews in Mississippi. I mean, hell, one of them’s already praying to Zeus, the next thing you know HE COULD WANT TO BRING A BLACK KID HOME TO PLAY XBOX!! And once that happens, THEY MIGHT WANT TO SHARE A JUICE BOX!! OH, THE HUMANITY!!

And we might have thought that the attitudes of the people who grew up in Mississippi during the civil rights movement would be more lenient. But you know what? I’ve heard many a story from Baby Boomers about the resentment built up over “their” schools being thrown into a tumult during desegregation.

I’d also say that it appears—appears—based on the last two questions that at least some of this survey required people to input an answer via telephone keys rather than give a verbal response. Question 16 instructs the respondent to press 1 if she’s a woman and 2 if he’s a man. Now, that right there is a problem. Elderly Mississippians can’t be relied on to press a button. You gotta MASH a button. And you gotta mash it hard and sometimes multiple times. Just like an elevator button. So, right there, I think you have to throw out the classification questions. Clearly the questions are meant to be confusing to Southerners. Remember, we’re a people who have never been about to go to work, we’re a people who are fixin’ to go to work. Totally different things. Totally.

More than anything else, this poll makes me sad. When people see headlines that Mississippians think interracial marriage should be illegal, no one really takes the time to look at anything positive happening there. Most people won’t take the time to learn it was 46% of 400 Republicans. Well, except those of us who have lived with the good and the bad of the Deep South and love it anyway. And so people like me, people who discriminate based on whether or not you’re an asshat, not whether or not you’re a BLACK asshat, speak up and say, HEY! Over here! We’re not all jackasses! And then we get accused of being defensive, reactionary apologists. And we just have to pick up our granola bars and Fiji Waters and go cry in a corner of a locally-owned fair-trade coffee house.

According to data from the 2010 census, Mississippi’s multiracial population has increased 70% since the 2000 census.  And while some of this is attributed to a change in how people classify their own race, some of it is attributed to a high multiracial birth rate in Mississippi. And what of those kids? Are we really going to punish them because we can’t get over ourselves? Are we that frightened? I happen to think we’re not.

Earlier this week, I was in on a discussion about whether a specific church was welcoming to gay people. I happen to think that’s sort of a ridiculous question. You’re either welcoming or you’re not. And this is what I want MY generation’s legacy to be. I can be a positive force for change in a place I love. But I’m really not DOING anything. I write about it because I can. Because, honestly, sometimes that’s all I can do.  I hope that my stepkids, nephews, and nieces see diversity the way I do: Diversity makes life more interesting. I want them to understand the joy there is in finding commonality among people who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common.

I could go on, but it’s Friday and I’m cutting into your beer-drinking time. So I’ll leave you with this final thought. I get calls a lot from pollsters. And never, not once, have I answered questions. I do not give out information over the phone. Never have. So you didn’t hear from me.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. I never once considered that poll’s MASH problem! Brilliant insight!

    Incidentally, around the same time people were talking about that poll the New York Times ran a more upbeat story: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/us/20race.html?pagewanted=all

    This recent racially motivated murder, that’s another matter. I followed your link in that post to this one–that’s a fabulous post about an awful, depressing event. Well done.

    You’re duly bookmarked.

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks! Also, that Times piece was one I read before writing this piece. That coupled with that ridiculous poll showed the best and worst of the South. I had no idea Mississippi’s multiracial makeup changed so much and was, what, twice the national average in growth or something. I’m glad you pointed that article out and posted it here.

Just spit it out, already!

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